Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Assistant's Revenge - a dark and magical, musical mystery (Cahoots NI in The MAC until 11 March) #bcf18

When a routine trick goes wrong in a nearly fatal way, American escapologist The Fabulous Felix (played by Gary Crossan) calls upon singing private detective Sam Sullivan (Kyron Bourke) to investigate the threat on his life. And so the fedora-wearing sleuth begins to unpick the locks and loosen the ties that surround the magician and his two assistants: young Molly (Maeve Smyth) and his sister Crystal (Ursula Burns).

The Assistant's Revenge is pitched at eight year olds and above (but definitely not for toddlers) and as you'd expect with a Cahoots NI show, there is room for lots of magic and illusions. With live music throughout - at one stage involving all four on-stage performers - and large scale illusions, there's with which to be fascinated. And with such precise control over the lighting and sound, Bosco engineers the perfect distractions to keep the gaze of audience lingering exactly where we wants it.

The illusion begins as soon as you come in and sit down on a bench in the big top that has been constructed inside the sixth floor room in The MAC which I associate with election manifesto launches and press conferences. With the sound of traffic and the odd siren subtly creeping into your consciousness, everything is already in the hands of Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney and his dream team from Christmas 2015 with on-stage music from composer Ursula Burns and the added voice and keyboard tinkling from Kyron Bourke.

The feeling of terror builds as we sense the performer's panic during a reconstruction of the incident that set off the investigation. Lights flicker, along with crackling sound effects, and whenever the central curtain opens, it's always a surprise what lies behind.

Crossan is cocky and plays Felix as an artist who has tricked himself into believing that he can treat the women in his life - and helping his act - without the respect and recompense that they deserve. Smyth impresses with her voice as well as the inner steel that underlies her smiling persona as the beautiful assistant. Bourke very naturally shifts from singing to speaking as he narrates each stage of the investigation accompanied by his husky voice and delicate touch on the keyboard (dressed up as an antique piano). While Burns is trapped between her keyboard and harp for much of the show creating the bed of music upon which it is based, she steps out front for a beautiful song and shows that she can act as well as compose and play.

The cast are as confident with the music as they are with the magic, producing some memorable harmonies that add to the already rich performance. Mc Eneaney and Charles Way have included some lovely lines in the script that adults in the audience will appreciate! While the plot jumps backwards and forwards in time, and I got lost in some of the final conclusions that 'solved' the case, the mood of the piece and the quality of its delivery isn't affected.

It's the kind of show that will leave parents scrambling for answers on the way home as little minds explore the science and trickery behind the magic, and question the complexity of the characters and their motives.

At just under an hour long, The Assistant's Revenge is a great piece of theatre from Cahoots NI for young and old and a great addition to this year's Belfast Children's Festival programme. Some tickets are available for the final three shows on Sunday 11 March.

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